Vigorously Promoting Ecological Progress to Build a Beautiful China

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2014-05-09 16:51
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The report to the Eighteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) incorporated the notion of ecological civilization into China’s overall plan for the development of socialism with Chinese characteristics, placing it alongside economic, political, cultural, and social progress to formulate a new, five-pronged approach to building socialism. As stated in the Decision of the CPC Central Committee on Major Issues Concerning Comprehensively Deepening Reform (hereinafter referred to as the Decision on Comprehensively Deepening Reform), which was adopted at the Third Plenary Session of the Eighteenth Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (hereinafter referred to as the Third Plenary Session), efforts must be made to deepen institutional reforms related to ecological progress with a view to building a beautiful China. These efforts include establishing systems to underpin ecological progress; improving systems and mechanisms for national spatial planning, the economical use of resources, and the protection of ecological environments; and promoting a new state of modernization in which humans and nature are able to exist in harmony. The new ideas, statements, and requirements on ecological progress that are presented in the Decision fully demonstrate the high level of priority that the CPC Central Committee with Xi Jinping as General Secretary attaches to the promotion of ecological progress in China. They demonstrate the determination of the CPC Central Committee to rally together people of all ethnic groups in China and lead them in a concerted effort to build a beautiful China, usher in a new era of socialist ecological civilization, build a moderately prosperous society in all respects, constantly claim new victories for socialism with Chinese characteristics, and realize the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation.  


The grasslands of Gemu, located at Bomi Township, Batang County, Sichuan Province. Owing to the implementation of natural forest protection projects in the region over the last decade, the natural forest ecosystems of the Gemu grasslands have remained in excellent condition. / Photo by Xinhua reporter Jiang Hongjing

I. The significance of promoting ecological progress

An ecological civilization emerges when human society reaches a certain stage of development. As a new mode of civilization that reflects a level of harmony between humans and nature, ecological civilization represents a major conceptual advance for the development of human civilization. Building an ecological civilization does not mean that we must abandon industrial civilization and return to a primitive way of living. Rather, it means building a civilized society with developed production, affluent standards of living, and sound ecological environments in accordance with the goals of realizing sustainable development and achieving a state of balance between humans and nature. Therefore, this is a society in which human activities are based on the carrying capacity of resources and the environment, and in which human development is governed by the objective laws of nature.  

At present, China’s economy is experiencing the combined effects of a gear change in the pace of economic growth coupled with the pains of structural adjustment. In the space of mere decades, we have traversed a process of development that took place over the course of several centuries in Western countries. Yet, while we have made incredible achievements in our economic and social development, various problems have also begun to surface in close succession. Under these circumstances, our Party has grasped the objective laws of development, accurately assessed the situation, and promptly committed itself to a strategy of promoting ecological progress. This commitment to ecological progress will have important implications for the development of socialism with Chinese characteristics at the present as well as far-reaching historical implications for its development in the future.  

Firstly, promoting ecological progress is a pressing demand that must be met if the healthy development of China’s economy is to be sustained. For many years, a large population, weak economic foundations, and uneven development have been the constituents of China’s basic national conditions. Now, it is important to realize that relative energy and resource shortages and the weak capacity of our ecological environments to cope with development have also become constituents of our basic national conditions. After more than 30 years of rapid economic growth, China’s extensive mode of development is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain. In 2012, China’s economy accounted for approximately 11.5% of global economic output, yet its consumption of energy, steel, copper, and cement accounted for 21.3%, 45%, 43%, and 54% of global totals for that year respectively. In the same year, China’s dependence on imported oil and iron ore reached 56.4% and 66.5% respectively, while its total emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides ranked first in the world. Therefore, we must engage in more conscientious efforts to promote green, circular, and low-carbon development, accelerate the transformation of our means of development, and shift away from growth modes that involve heavy resource consumption and serious environmental pollution, so as to pave a sustainable development path that is characterized by minimal development costs, low emissions, and high efficiency. 

Secondly, promoting ecological progress is a basic requirement of putting people first. In maintaining a commitment to putting people first, the first thing we must do is to guarantee the mental and physical wellbeing of the people. In the past, the public were concerned with having adequate shelter, warm clothes, and enough to eat; now, they have a greater demand for environmental protection. Specifically, they long for agreeable living environments, clean water, fresh air, and safe food that they can trust. The job of the government is to orient its policies towards the wishes of the people. Therefore, we must devote major efforts to resolving prominent environmental issues, work constantly to improve the working and living conditions of the people, and continue to win the people’s trust by delivering solid results in our environmental initiatives.  

Thirdly, promoting ecological progress is an important aspect of the Chinese dream. Every single Chinese person dreams of a beautiful homeland with blue skies, green hills, and clear waters. As an inseparable part of the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation, this is what we hope to achieve through our efforts to build a beautiful China. Therefore, it is essential that we give particular emphasis to promoting ecological progress, incorporate the concept of ecological civilization into all aspects of economic, political, cultural, and social development, and work to bring about a new state of modernization in which humans and nature are able to exist in harmony.   

Fourthly, promoting ecological progress is a choice that must be made if we are to achieve the lasting development of the Chinese nation. Ecological progress has a bearing not only on people’s wellbeing at present, but also on the future of the entire nation. Mother Nature nurtured our ancestors. It has provided us with the conditions we need to survive and develop, and will continue to nurture our future generations in years to come. Blue waters and green hills cannot be replaced by mountains of gold and silver. As we are developing our economy, it is important that we make economical use of resources, manage environments well, and protect ecosystems. We must take substantial steps to preserve nature’s capacity to sustain humans permanently, allow nature to recuperate and recover, and leave more room for the development of future generations.  

Fifthly, promoting ecological progress is an approach that must be taken if we are to address the problem of global climate change. Climate change is one of the largest global challenges that we are facing at present. Faced with this challenge, the preservation of ecological security is increasingly becoming a common mission of humanity as a whole. Having become closely integrated into the international community, China must mount an active response to climate change alongside the other countries of the world, and fulfill its due responsibilities and obligations to the best of its ability. In doing so, we must engage in major efforts to promote ecological progress, effectively control the emission of greenhouse gasses, do more to present China as a major country with a strong sense of responsibility, and contribute to the sustainable development of humankind.  

II. The situation China faces in promoting ecological progress

By adopting an overall strategic perspective, identifying minimum requirements, laying an emphasis on wider thinking, and accurately reading situations both inside and outside of China, we need to gain a comprehensive understanding of what China has already achieved and what problems it still faces with regard to promoting ecological progress. Only then will we be able to foster a keen awareness of potential dangers, cultivate a strong sense of responsibility, proceed with greater confidence, and make continuous headway in our efforts to promote ecological progress.  

1. Achievements that China has made in promoting ecological progress

The Communist Party of China has always attached a high level of priority to environmental protection and ecological conservation. The Party’s first generation of central leadership, with Mao Zedong at its core, introduced a set of basic principles with regard to environmental protection. These were: “Overall planning and rational distribution; utilizing resources comprehensively and turning hazards into benefits; relying on the masses and involving everybody; and protecting environments for the benefit of the people.” The Party’s second generation of central leadership, with Deng Xiaoping at its core, identified environmental protection as a basic state policy, laying emphasis on the importance of protecting ecological environments in the exploitation and utilization of resources. The Party’s third generation of central leadership, with Jiang Zemin at its core, gave joint consideration to development and the environment, identified sustainable development as a national development strategy, and proposed putting society on a path of civilized development characterized by developed production, affluent standards of living, and sound ecological environments. The previous Party Central Committee, with Hu Jintao as General Secretary, identified resource conservation as a basic state policy, and established promoting ecological progress as both a national development strategy and an important target in China’s efforts to build a moderately prosperous society in all respects. Laying emphasis on the importance of sustainable development, it incorporated the notion of ecological civilization into China’s overall plan for the development of socialism with Chinese characteristics, thereby formulating a new, five-pronged approach to building socialism. The new central Party leadership, with Xi Jinping as General Secretary, has actively advanced theoretical innovation and explored new practices with regard to promoting ecological progress. It has clearly stated that ushering in a new era of socialist ecological progress and building a beautiful China constitute important aspects of the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation. It has also emphasized that sound ecological environments represent the fairest public good and the most universal form of public welfare. On that basis, it has stated that we must correctly balance the relationship between economic development and the protection of ecological environments; firmly establish the notion that protecting ecological environments equates to protecting productive forces while improving ecological environments equates to improving productive forces; and work to promote green, circular, and low-carbon development in a more conscientious fashion, ensuring that under no circumstances are environments sacrificed for short-term economic growth. The Decision on Comprehensively Deepening Reform, which was recently passed at the Third Plenary Session, clearly states that efforts must be made to deepen institutional reforms pertaining to ecological progress and to accelerate the establishment of systems to underpin ecological progress, with a view to building a beautiful China. From one generation to the next, China’s theories on promoting ecological progress have grown and evolved amidst a constant process of exploration, eventually becoming an important part of the theories of socialism with Chinese characteristics.   

Guided by these important theories and strategies, China has adopted a series of major measures with a view to promoting ecological progress. For example, we have established a basic framework of institutions and policies for the conservation of energy and natural resources and the protection of ecological environments, with the level of funding for these initiatives being increased on a constant basis. At the same time, we have constantly enhanced our efforts with regard to energy conservation, emissions reduction, the development of circular economies, and the protection of ecological environments. These efforts have led to notable results. Over the past 5 years, the government has spent a combined total of more than 1.14 trillion yuan on energy conservation and environmental protection initiatives nationwide. In 2012, China’s energy consumption per unit of GDP was 17.2% lower than it had been five years earlier, while the country’s chemical oxygen demand (COD) and sulfur dioxide emissions had dropped by 15.7% and 17.5% respectively; the amount of water consumed per 10,000 yuan of industrial value added was less than half of what it had been 10 years before; the treatment rate of wastewater in cities reached 87.3%; the proportion of coal-fired electricity produced in power plants equipped with desulfurization facilities exceeded 90%; the rate of forest coverage increased constantly; the quality of grasslands in grazing areas began to show an improvement; and the area of desertified land continued to decrease.  

2. The main problems that China faces in promoting ecological progress 

In order to correctly understand the situation that China faces in its efforts to promote ecological progress in a new period, we must continue to adopt a dialectal way of thinking, not only recognizing what China has achieved so far, but also seeing the problems it currently faces. In doing so, we must have a keen awareness of problems that are inherent to our current stage of development, and attach major significance to the fact that the overall deterioration of ecological environments in China has yet to be fundamentally reversed. The main problems that China faces in promoting ecological progress at present include the following. First, energy and resource constraints are continuing to increase. Shortages of land and water resources in relation to our population are becoming increasingly evident, and the task of guaranteeing the secure supply of energy and important minerals is becoming increasingly challenging. Second, environmental pollution is a serious problem. A significant proportion of our cities are failing to meet new air quality standards. The pollution of river systems and groundwater throughout the country and the safety of drinking water are issues that we cannot ignore. At the same time, heavy metal pollution and soil pollution are serious problems in some regions. Third, the degradation of ecosystems is a major issue. The rate of forest coverage in China is by no means high. Soil erosion, desertification, and the decline of grasslands are taking place over large areas. Natural wetlands are diminishing, ecosystems in rivers and lakes are declining, and biodiversity continues to decrease. Fourth, there are irrationalities in the spatial layout of our development. Speaking in overall terms, too much space has been devoted to production, leaving too little space for ecological and domestic purposes. In some areas, rash, excessive, and disorderly development has neared or even surpassed the maximum carrying capacity of resources and the environment. Fifth, we are being presented with new challenges in our efforts to respond to climate change. As a large emitter of greenhouse gasses, China is facing an arduous task in emissions reduction. Sixth, the social effects of environmental issues have become prominent. The unlawful discharge of pollutants by some companies has polluted environments and provoked strong reactions from communities and members of the public.

China’s environmental problems can be attributed to both historical and natural factors. These problems are closely connected to China’s national conditions, and to the stage of development that we are currently undergoing. As problems that have been encountered during the course of development, they are partly the result of shortcomings in our understanding, our work, and our systems. Some localities, seeking only development speed, have sacrificed ecological environments for short-term economic growth. At the same time, China’s laws, policies, and performance appraisal systems have been unable to meet demands for the promotion of ecological progress. In light of this, we must intensify our efforts and work resolutely to curb the deterioration of ecological environments, so as to ensure that environments can be improved gradually and strengthened on an ongoing basis. At the same time, we need to be aware that the resolution of environmental issues cannot be achieved in a single effort, but will call for a long-term commitment. It took decades for the waters of the Rhine to become clear once more, for London to bid farewell to the smog, and for Los Angeles to overcome its photochemical air pollution. China is still in the primary stage of socialism, and will continue to be so for a considerable period of time. The number one priority in this phase is development, which holds the key to the resolution of all of China’s problems. However, the fact remains that China’s weak economic foundations, limited financial capacity, and low technological capabilities cannot be reversed overnight. Therefore, in setting out to combat environmental pollution and promote ecological progress, not only must we proceed with confidence, but we must also avoid seeking to do too much too soon; not only must we tackle tough issues head-on, but we must also be prepared for a long-term struggle. We need to bring our thinking into alignment, and maintain an unwavering commitment to pushing our initiatives forward in an active yet prudent fashion.  

III. Basic approaches and major tasks in promoting ecological progress   

The CPC Central Committee and State Council attach a high level of priority to promoting ecological progress, and have made a series of important arrangements with a view to furthering initiatives in this regard. The Third Plenary Session set forth clear requirements for the deepening of institutional reforms regarding ecological progress. These requirements lay emphasis on the following: establishing a complete framework of systems to underpin ecological progress; improving systems regarding the ownership of natural resource assets as well as the control of their use; drawing red lines in ecological protection; implementing systems for the paid use of natural resources and for the provision of environmental compensation; and restructuring administrative systems for the protection of ecological environments. The laying out of these new requirements is certain to provide us with a strong motive force as we work to promote ecological progress. Keeping our feet firmly on the ground, we must proceed with confidence, work in a realistic and pragmatic manner, take on the tasks at hand, and strive to achieve real results. 

Speaking in overall terms, there are six important principles that we must grasp in working to promote ecological progress. First, we must continue to regard reform and innovation as the basic driving forces behind ecological progress. This means that we must improve systems and mechanisms pertaining to the planning of land spaces, the economical utilization of resources, and the protection of ecological environments, so as to provide a solid guarantee for ecological progress with the most rigorous systems and laws. Second, we must remain committed to the basic principles of respecting, accommodating to, and protecting nature. By harming nature we are actually harming ourselves, and by protecting nature we are in fact protecting ourselves—this is something that we must never forget. In order to achieve harmony between humans and nature, we must ensure that human activities do not exceed the carrying capacity of nature. Third, we must adhere to the basic requirements of pursuing protection amidst development and development amidst protection. Whereas development holds the key to the resolution of all of China’s problems, environmental protection represents the key to achieving sustainable development; the two are equally important, meaning that one cannot be favored at the expense of the other. Therefore, we need to pave a path that allows for the achievement of both economic development and environmental protection. Fourth, we must remain committed to a basic approach that lays emphasis on conservation, protection, and natural restoration. Conservation must be our number one priority in the exploitation of resources; protection must be our number one priority in the improvement of environments; and natural restoration must be the focus of our efforts to promote ecological progress. Through these efforts, we must strive to reverse the worsening of ecological environments at the source. Fifth, we must remain committed to a basic path of green, circular, and low-carbon development. We should regard the promotion of green, circular, and low-carbon development as an important part of our efforts to transform our mode of development, restructure our economy, and achieve higher-quality development. In order to boost our capacity for sustainable development across the board, we need to accelerate our efforts to establish resource-efficient and environmentally friendly spatial layouts, industrial structures, modes of production, and ways of living. Sixth, we must adhere to a basic working approach in which the government plays a guiding role, enterprises assume the main responsibility, various parties participate, and the entire public is involved. The government should guide, support, and monitor efforts to promote ecological progress; enterprises should actively fulfill their responsibilities and obligations; and each individual should become accustomed to protecting ecological environments conscientiously.   

We must adhere to a “two-pronged” approach in our efforts to promote ecological progress. On the one hand, we must devote major efforts to conserving energy, lowering consumption, and tackling problems of major public concern at present, such as air, water, and soil pollution. This must be done by stepping up efforts, formulating and initiating action plans, and introducing and implementing new schemes as they are ready, so as to achieve constant results. On the other hand, we must also devote major efforts to the development of systems to underpin ecological progress. By adopting an overall perspective, we need to enhance top-level design and overall planning, and work to establish institutional arrangements and incentives that are conducive to the conservation of resources and the protection of environments. Through these efforts, we will guarantee the completion of the targets on ecological progress that have been set out in the Twelfth Five-Year Plan, ensuring that by the year 2020 we can achieve an initial state of ecological progress that corresponds to China’s goal of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects. 

1. Optimizing our spatial planning on the basis of functional zones

Land spaces represent the basic spatial medium for ecological progress. Taking into account the diversity, imbalances, and fragility that characterize China’s land spaces, and in accordance with the principles of seeking balance between populations, resources, and environments and unity between economic, social, and ecological benefits, we need to make overall plans concerning populations, economies, land resources, and ecological environments, and scientifically determine the geographical layout of our development. In doing so, we will strive to make our production spaces intensive and efficient, our living spaces agreeable and reasonable, and our ecological environments beautiful and pristine.  

Firstly, we must remain firmly committed to our strategy of functional zoning. We must promote development in strict accordance with the positioning of functional zones, improve laws and policies that complement functional zoning plans, enhance efforts to monitor the implementation of plans, and allow each functional zone to form its own regional features and competitive advantages during the course of scientific development.     

Secondly, we must devote major efforts to making our urbanization more intensive, intelligent, green, and low-carbon. The potential demand that may be released through urbanization is staggering. As long as we make sound plans, establish sound layouts, and engage in sound development initiatives, we will be able to effectively promote the intensive development of land as well as the balanced and coordinated development of different areas. However, urban areas are also responsible for the bulk of energy use, resource consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions. In the years ahead, more than 100 million people are expected to leave the countryside and take up residence in urban areas. This means that we will come under serious pressure in our efforts to ensure the supply of energy and resources and to protect ecological environments. Therefore, it is important that we incorporate the notion of ecological progress into all aspects of our work, from the formulation of plans down to the administration of development initiatives. We must actively promote the widespread adoption of green building standards and the design and construction of green buildings, devote major efforts to the development of environmentally friendly transport, and pay attention to the establishment of green areas and developmental buffer zones. At the same time, we need to implement strict managerial requirements regarding the conservation of land, water, and energy, and enhance our efforts to prevent and rectify environmental pollution. 

Thirdly, we must strive to establish China as a leading maritime nation. China is a major maritime nation. For this reason, the protection and management of ocean environments has a bearing not only on China’s development, but also on its national security. We must establish and stick to four “red lines” in the development of ocean areas: no longer damaging ecological balance; no longer undermining ecological functions; no longer changing basic properties; and ensuring that no further deterioration occurs to ecosystems that have already been damaged. Coastal areas cannot simply take from the ocean, but must also enhance their protection of ocean ecologies. In an effort to bring about the gradual improvement of ocean ecologies, we must enforce the strictest possible administration and control policies on coastal reclamation whilst rectifying and repairing ocean areas that have already been damaged.   

2. Effectively reducing the pressure of economic activities on resources and environments through efforts to adjust and optimize industrial structures

In order to mitigate the conflicts that exist between economic growth and the conservation of resources and environments at the source, we must focus our efforts on transforming our mode of development, restructuring our economy, and promoting the transformation of our industries, thereby accelerating the formation of a modern industrial structure that is conducive to ecological progress.   

Firstly, we must make a strong commitment to dissolving excess production capacity. We must impose rigorous controls on increases in our production capacity. Acting in line with the requirements of the central government, governments and pertinent authorities at all levels must strictly prohibit the approval of new projects that will increase production capacity in industries where there is serious excess production capacity. At the same time, with regard to projects that violate regulations, those yet to be launched should not be granted permission to begin construction, while those that have already begun construction must be stopped without exception. Gradual efforts must be made to digest the production capacity that we already have. Working in accordance with the principles of respecting objective laws, formulating policies on a per industry basis, taking multiple factors into account, and addressing both symptoms and root causes, we must digest, transfer, consolidate, and eliminate excess production capacity as needed in line with prescribed targets and timetables. During this process, we must fully exert market mechanisms and the guiding role of the government, so as to gradually resolve the problem of excess production capacity. 

Secondly, we must accelerate the transformation and upgrading of our industries. While some sectors should be suppressed, others should be allowed to grow. Therefore, we must strive to achieve the transformation and upgrading of our industries through policies that suppress growth in some areas while encouraging it in others, so as to cultivate new avenues of economic growth. To do this, we must make major efforts to develop strategic emerging industries and modern manufacturing industries; overhaul and upgrade traditional industries; and promote the development and strengthening of service industries, especially modern service industries. The energy conservation and environmental protection industries constitute important strategic emerging industries. As new growth drivers for China’s economy, they boast enormous potential for development. Through the deepening of reform, we need to explore new mechanisms and develop new approaches so that capital from a wider range of sources and sectors can enter the energy conservation and environmental protection sectors.    

Thirdly, we must fully exert the underpinning role that scientific and technological innovation plays in the promotion of ecological progress. Bearing in mind the particular significance of scientific and technological innovation, we must remain committed to a strategy of driving development through innovation, and do more to establish China’s economic development on the basis of scientific and technological advances, improvements in the quality of the workforce, and innovation in management, so as to reduce the pressure that development exerts on ecological environments. We must actively apply advanced technologies to carry out the ecological transformation of our agricultural, industrial, and service sectors, and work to realize resource conservation and environmental protection through the application of clean production methods. At the same time, by devoting greater efforts to research and development, we should strive to make key technological breakthroughs with regard to controlling atmospheric pollution, treating pollution in water bodies, and utilizing waste as resources. Such technological advances will underpin our efforts to promote ecological progress while allowing us to foster new competitive advantages in industry. 

Fourthly, we must devote major efforts to the development of circular economies. Circular economies represent a fundamental departure from traditional modes of growth and consumption, which have typically been characterized by large-scale production, consumption, and waste. Circular economies allow for the sustainable utilization of resources, the prevention of pollution at the source, and the effective improvement of ecological environments, thereby promoting balance between economic development, resources, and environments. In promoting the development of circular economies, we must proceed in line with the principles of reduction, reutilization, and recovery, with the emphasis being placed on reduction. In line with the target of raising resource productivity, we should promote the development of circular economies in production, distribution, and consumption, and work faster to build a framework for the circular utilization of resources that covers society as a whole. In addition, we must ensure the sound implementation of the “Ten-Hundred-Thousand” scheme to showcase circular economies. To do this, we must proceed with a series of demonstration projects, including schemes for the comprehensive utilization of resources, initiatives to overhaul industrial parks with circular processes, systems for the retrieval of renewable resources, centers for recovering mineral resources from city wastes and schemes for the industrialization of remanufacturing. By stepping up our efforts to spread circular economies, we will promote the development of a larger and stronger sector for the circular utilization of resources.   

3. Comprehensively enhancing the conservation of resources in order to transform the way that resources are utilized

The conservation of resources constitutes the fundamental policy for the protection of ecological environments. Therefore, efforts to conserve resources must be stepped up across all walks of life, in all sectors of the economy, and throughout the entire process of our development. We need to adopt effective measures to significantly bring down the intensity of our energy, water, and land usage, and make efforts to establish our economic and social development on the basis of rational resource consumption.  

Firstly, we must engage in vigorous efforts to conserve energy, reduce emissions, and lower consumption. China has set itself the target of reducing its energy consumption per unit of GDP by 16% during the Twelfth Five-Year Plan. At the same time, China will also strive to achieve a marked reduction in the overall discharge of major pollutants in this period, reducing its chemical oxygen demand and sulfur dioxide emissions each by 8%, and cutting its emissions of ammonia nitrogen and nitrogen oxides each by 10%. These are nonnegotiable targets that must be met. To perform well in our initiatives to conserve energy and cut emissions, we must focus on key sectors, keep a close eye on priority enterprises, and initiate major projects. We must work faster to improve energy efficiency standards and pollutant discharge standards for priority industries and products. At the same time, in a practical bid to raise energy efficiency and lower emissions, we should introduce a system to subsidize leaders in energy efficiency. We must continue to implement the “10,000 Enterprises Energy Efficiency and Low Carbon Program” as well as schemes for the rectification of major pollution sources. At the same time, we also need to carry on promoting key projects with regard to energy conservation and emissions reduction, such as energy efficiency renovations, demonstration projects for the industrialization of energy conserving technologies, and the construction of sewage and garbage treatment facilities as well as the supporting pipeline networks in urban areas. 

Secondly, we must engage in vigorous efforts to use water resources economically. Low utilization efficiency and serious waste are important causes of China’s water shortages. We need to implement the strictest possible system for the administration of water resources, ensuring that we hold firmly to three “red lines” in the use of water: controlling the exploitation of water resources; controlling the efficiency of water usage; and limiting the entry of pollutants into water function zones. Through these efforts, we will accelerate China’s transformation into a water-conserving society. At the same time, we must make major efforts to develop water-conserving agriculture, strive to raise the efficiency of water usage in industry, promote water-conserving renovations in industries with heavy water consumption, and enhance efforts to strengthen water saving initiatives in cities. We should work actively to promote the utilization of sewage as a resource and raise our capacity to utilize reclaimed water. In addition, we should also continue to promote the desalination and utilization of seawater. 

Thirdly, we must engage in vigorous efforts to use mineral resources economically. At present, China’s gross mineral recovery rate and comprehensive utilization rate of associated mineral resources trail leading international standards by roughly 20 percentage points. We need to establish and develop incentive and restraint mechanisms that cover the entire process of prospecting, exploitation, mineral dressing, smelting, as well as the utilization of discarded tailings. Making use of these mechanisms, we should encourage enterprises involved in various aspects of the production process to act conscientiously in the conservation and utilization of various resources. By doing so, we will further raise our extraction rate, dressing recovery rate, and overall utilization rate while increasing our capacity to make use of waste materials as resources.   

Fourthly, we must engage in vigorous efforts to use land economically. China faces a severe shortage of arable land per capita. In light of this reality, we must proceed with efforts to use land economically in accordance with the principles of capping total supply, strictly limiting supply increases, and making full use of existing supply. We must continue to implement the strictest possible system for the protection of arable land, and hold firmly to the red line of 120 million hectares of arable land, which is the minimum level that we must maintain in order to guarantee our food security. We must rationally determine the amount, the uses, as well as the timescale for the provision of new land for construction purposes. By improving standards on the usage of land, we need to impose strict controls on the supply of land for various construction purposes. We should continue with initiatives to bring existing development land into full play, and step up efforts to deal with idle land. In addition, we need to enhance performance assessments concerning the use and conservation of land, so as to ensure that every inch of land is used economically. 

4. Strengthening efforts to control pollution in order to improve the quality of ecological environments 

We have come to the stage where urgent action must be taken without delay to address the serious problems of air, water, and soil pollution in China. In responding to these problems, we need to identify clear priorities, adopt striking measures, lay an emphasis on the rectification of pollution, and strive to attain solid results.   

Firstly, we must take firm action to address air pollution. The CPC Central Committee and State Council have identified the enhancement of efforts to prevent and control air pollution as an important means of improving the people’s wellbeing and as a specific scheme to promote ecological progress in China. On this basis, we have rapidly formulated and issued the Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Air Pollution. As stipulated in the plan, China will devote the next five years to raising the overall quality of air nationwide and to achieving a significant decrease in heavy air pollution. At the same time, the plan has also set out the goal of achieving a marked improvement in air quality in Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei, in the Yangtze Delta, and in the Pearl River Delta during the same period. Following this, we will devote another five years or longer to gradually eliminating heavy air pollution and to achieving a marked improvement in air quality nationwide. Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, and the surrounding areas represent the number one priority in our nationwide efforts to prevent and control air pollution. The State Council has made special arrangements concerning the prevention and control of air pollution in this region. These arrangements are characterized by more stringent controls, more demanding policies, and higher targets. At the same time, the State Council has requested that the six provincial-level governments in the region enter into binding agreements to ensure that targets for the prevention and control of air pollution are met. All local governments and departments are required to conscientiously implement the major decisions of the central government. They should actively implement various policies and measures; incorporate environmental management into economic restructuring and into efforts to drive economic development through innovation; and lay special emphasis on key initiatives such as controlling pollution in heavily polluted cities, adjusting the energy structure, reducing emissions from motor vehicles, controlling pollution in high-pollution industries and enterprises, and controlling pollution during the winter period when heating is provided. Through these efforts, local governments and departments should strive to develop a new approach whereby efforts to control pollution can spur on scientific development, industrial transformation and upgrading, and the improvement of the public wellbeing. This new approach will guarantee that environmental, economic, and social benefits can all come out on top. At the same time, it is also important that we closely monitor the implementation of the Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Air Pollution, ensuring that local governments fulfill their targets and responsibilities, establish clear timeframes and roadmaps, and devote themselves fully to a long-term struggle against air pollution. At present, the relevant departments and local government authorities are required to enhance their coordination with one another. In northern areas particularly, effective efforts must be made to counter extreme air pollution in winter, so as to guarantee the health of the public. In summary, we need to fully commit ourselves to attaining the targets that we have set, so as to ensure that the public can feel a difference and see results. 

Secondly, we must make major efforts to tackle water pollution. China’s water shortages are not only a result of insufficient resources and inadequate water conservancy facilities, but are also due to the effects of pollution. Greater efforts must be made to protect drinking water sources. We need to comprehensively search for pollution sources in water source protection zones, quasi-protection zones, and upstream areas, take strong action to promote the rectification and recovery of environments in areas that serve as water sources, and make constant efforts to improve the quality of drinking water. We must engage in active efforts to restore groundwater, designate rectification areas, prevention areas, and standard protection areas to tackle the pollution of groundwater, and strengthen both control at the source and reparation at the destination. In addition, we should engage in major efforts to control the pollution of surface water. We need to further increase our capacity to treat domestic wastewater, raise standards pertaining to the discharge of industrial wastewater, exercise an attitude of “zero tolerance” towards enterprises whose wastewater discharges exceed standards, and continue to strengthen comprehensive pollution control in key water bodies and watersheds.  

Thirdly, we must act more quickly to tackle soil pollution. Soil represents the very first line of defense in food safety. For this reason, major efforts need to be made to control sources of pollution. We must strictly enforce administrative regulations with regard to the use of highly toxic pesticides that leave high levels of residues. In addition to ensuring that heavily polluting enterprises meet discharge standards, we also need to enforce more stringent environmental restrictions in priority areas for the protection of soil environments, and prohibit new projects involving non-ferrous metals, chemical medicines, and lead-acid battery production in these areas. We need to strengthen efforts to control soil pollution in priority areas, and conduct effective environmental risk management with regard to soil pollution. Polluted land plots deemed to pose a health risk to humans should be rectified promptly in order to prevent pollution from spreading. Also, alternative uses should be assigned to arable land that has been seriously polluted, thereby allowing such land to recover in a controlled fashion.     

Fourthly, we must take practical steps to protect ecosystems. Healthy, beautiful, and strong ecosystems represent an important indicator of ecological progress. It is important that we define and firmly enforce ecological “red lines” in important ecological function zones and in sensitive and fragile land and ocean ecological environments. On that basis, we must make a commitment to lowering the intensity of economic activities in these areas by withdrawing a certain proportion of the local population as well as industry. We should devote major efforts to building an ecological barrier for China that consists primarily of “two shields and three belts,” namely: an ecological shield on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau; an ecological shield spanning the Loess Plateau, Sichuan, and Yunnan; a forest belt in the northeast; a sand entrapment belt in the north; and a hilly and mountainous belt in the south. At the same time, we need to consolidate and expand the scope of our initiatives to revert farmland back to forest land and grazing land back to natural grasslands; continue to carry out projects for the protection of forest land; and proceed with comprehensive projects to control desertification, stony desertification, and soil erosion, so as to promote the gradual recovery of ecosystems. We also need to step up our efforts to build disaster prevention and reduction systems, so as to reduce the damage caused by natural disasters to a minimum. 

Fifthly, we must mount an active response to climate change. China has promised the world that it will meet a series of targets pertaining to climate change by the year 2020. These include the following: lowering our CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by 40-45% (compared to the level in 2005); raising the proportion of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 15%; increasing the area of forest coverage in China by 40 million hectares compared to the year 2005; and increasing the forest volume by 1.3 billion cubic meters compared to the year 2005. We must lose no time in formulating long-term national plans on climate change response, and devote ourselves to completing our tasks so that we can fulfill our promises on schedule. At the same time, by upholding the principles of common but differentiated responsibilities, fairness, and respective capabilities, we should actively participate in efforts to promote the establishment of a fair and reasonable system for international cooperation on climate change.     

5. Improving laws and regulations and creating innovative systems and mechanisms to underpin ecological progress 

The establishment of an ecological civilization will revolutionize the way that we produce, live, and think, and also the values that we hold to. Working in line with the guiding principles of the Third Plenary Session, we must accelerate the pace of our efforts to deepen institutional reforms related to ecological progress. This means that we will need to implement the strictest possible systems for environmental protection at the source, damage compensation, and accountability, whilst making improvements to systems that involve environmental rectification and ecological recovery. In short, we must use institutional arrangements as a means of protecting ecological environments.     

Firstly, we need to further strengthen laws and regulations with a view to promoting ecological progress. By accelerating our efforts to establish new laws, amend existing laws, and abolish outdated laws, we must work as quickly as possible to fine-tune a legal system that pertains to the protection and administration of ecological environments, land, mineral resources, forests, and grasslands. We must single out and amend any existing law that does not fully accord to requirements for promoting ecological progress, and formulate new laws and regulations pertaining to the protection of biodiversity, the prevention and control of soil pollution, and also nuclear safety. At the same time, efforts also need to be made to reform administrative systems for the protection of ecological environments. We need to establish and develop an administrative system for environmental protection whereby all discharges of pollutants are strictly monitored. We also need to ensure that environmental monitoring and administrative law enforcement are carried out on an independent basis, so as to enhance the authority that is associated with law enforcement initiatives. Those responsible for causing damage to ecological environments shall be required to provide compensation in strict accordance with regulations, and shall also be held legally accountable for the damage they cause. 

Secondly, we must further develop systems to assess and appraise our economic development. Sound administration is only possible when there are standards to be followed. In line with requirements for promoting ecological progress, indicators such as resource consumption, environmental degradation, and ecological benefits need to be fully integrated into and given sufficient weight in the performance appraisals of Party committees and governments at all local levels. Regional GDP appraisals should be cancelled in areas where development is restricted and also in national priority counties for poverty alleviation through development where ecological environments are fragile. We need to make comprehensive efforts to amend and improve existing systems and regulations pertaining to natural resource and ecological protection, environmental impact assessments, energy saving assessments and reviews, and the management of land and water resources. In addition, we should step up our monitoring efforts, administer rewards and punishments in strict accordance with regulations, and ensure that all systems become binding. Leading cadres should be subject to natural resource asset audits before they leave office. Also, a lifelong accountability system for ecological damage should be put in place.  

Thirdly, we need to make further improvements to market mechanisms and economic policies. We will carry out the unified registration of rights to natural ecological spaces such as rivers, forests, hills, grasslands, wasteland, and tidal land, so as to establish a property right system for natural resource assets that is characterized by clear ownership, clearly defined rights and responsibilities, and effective oversight. We will improve systems for the management of our country’s natural resource assets, and perform unified ownership duties for natural resource assets that belong to the people as a whole. We will accelerate the pace of pricing reform for natural resources and natural resource products, so as to fully reflect the state of their supply and demand in the market, the extent of their scarcity, the level of ecological damage incurred as a result of their exploitation or manufacture, and the benefits of restoring such ecological environments. We must remain committed to the principle that resources should be paid for, and the principle that whoever pollutes the environment and damages ecosystems shall be responsible for providing compensation. Working on that basis, we should gradually expand the scope of resource taxation to cover the occupation of various natural ecological spaces. In line with the principle that compensation shall be provided by those who benefit, we should improve compensation mechanisms for key ecological function areas, and promote the establishment of a trans-regional ecological compensation system. At the same time, efforts also need to be made to develop the environmental protection market. We should introduce systems for the trading of energy savings, carbon emission rights, pollutant discharge rights, and water usage rights; establish market-oriented mechanisms to encourage private investment in environmental protection; and introduce third-party treatment of environmental pollution.   

6. Promoting green and low-carbon consumption in order to create a sound social atmosphere for ecological progress

The establishment of an ecological civilization will call for widespread efforts from society as a whole, and all members of society stand to benefit from sound ecological environments. Therefore, by stepping up our publicity initiatives, we must guide our society in cultivating environmental principles and ethics, and urge members of society to embrace civilized, economical, green, and low-carbon modes of consumption and living. We must ingrain the notion of ecological progress deeply within the conscience and actions of the public, so as to create a sound social atmosphere in which all members of society take responsibility for promoting ecological progress and observe rules with regard to promoting ecological progress. 

Firstly, we must accelerate our efforts to raise awareness of ecological progress. Once the public has a higher awareness of ecological progress, they will be more motivated to participate in the effort to achieve it. However, this awareness is not something that can be cultivated overnight, and a long-term effort will be required to inform and guide the public. We need to establish an institutionalized, systematic, and publically oriented framework of measures to inform the public about ecological progress, do a sound job of making China’s national conditions known, promote greater understanding of environmental sciences and environmental laws, and engage in major efforts to publicize the dangers of environmental pollution and ecological damage. By ensuring that the public appreciates the urgent, arduous, and long-term nature of our efforts to improve ecological environments, and that they fully understand and support our efforts to promote ecological progress, we will be able to lay down a widespread and solid social foundation on which constant improvements in the quality of ecological environments can be achieved. In addition, we should work to establish ecological progress as a mainstream value and spread it to all corners of our society. By introducing the subject of ecological progress in our textbooks, classrooms, and schools, we will help young people to understand the importance of conserving resources and protecting environments. This will play an important role in establishing the correct environmental values and ethics in our youth.   

Secondly, we need to actively advocate green lifestyles. In order to promote ecological progress, it is essential that we put an end to irrational modes of consumption. Capitalizing on the opportunity provided by the introduction of the “eight-point code of conduct” of the CPC Central Committee, we must staunchly oppose hedonism and extravagance, urge the public to consume rationally, encourage the purchase and use of green, low-carbon, environmentally friendly, and recyclable products, and launch penetrating schemes to oppose the waste of food. Through these efforts, we will work to foster a stronger social consensus around the idea that living economically is a virtue while being wasteful is shameful. 

Thirdly, we need to make effective use of public oversight. Public oversight represents the most direct and effective means of monitoring ecological environments. To better ensure that the public can enjoy the right to stay informed about and monitor environmental issues, we need to take the initiative in promptly making environmental information public and raising transparency. At the same time, we also need to actively give play to the role of the news media and non-government organizations, so as to consciously subject ourselves to media and social oversight. 

The efforts that we make now to promote ecological progress will benefit us for years to come. As an arduous yet glorious mission, the building of an ecological civilization will have a direct bearing on the survival, the development, and the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. It is therefore essential that we continue to forge ahead with dedication and perseverance. Under the firm leadership of the CPC Central Committee with Xi Jinping as General Secretary, we must fully implement the guiding principles of the Eighteenth National Congress of the CPC and the Third Plenary Session, work vigorously to promote ecological progress, strive to build a beautiful China, and engage in a tireless effort to complete the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects and realize the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation.

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No.24, 2013) 

Author: Member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and Vice-Premier of the State Council

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